James Alexander Gordon: East Fife 4 Forfar 5 things to know

Aug 19, 2014

Five things you didn't know about the voice of the football results, who has died at the age of 78


James Alexander Gordon, the broadcaster whose voice became synonymous with the Saturday afternoon football results, has died at the age of 78.

For 40 years he read the the classified results on BBC radio in his distinctive Scottish brogue. His delivery was famous for its upward and downward inflections, which gave the listener a good idea of the result even before he reached the score. He explained that it was an attempt to empathise with the supporters of both teams.

Jag, as he was known thanks to his initials, began reading the results in 1973 and delivered his final set of scores at the end of the 2013 season.

He was forced to retire after throat cancer affected his voice. He had surgery to remove his larynx last summer, and when it became clear he could no longer broadcast, newsreader Charlotte Green took over from him.

Here are five things you might not know about him:
He suffered from polio

He was born in Edinburgh in 1936 and his adopted his parents ran a pub in the Scottish city. But at the age of six months he contracted polio and had to spend a lot of his childhood in hospital. The disease affected his speech and he wore leg supports until his late teens. "It was during the months he spent in a hospital bed that his appreciation of radio began," says The Guardian. "Unable to play sport, he had a limp, and learned to walk with raised-sole footwear." 

He always wanted to read the results

Gordon once told the Edinburgh Evening News how he would practice reading the football results as a child to make them more interesting. "Dad used to get really irritated by football announcers when he was filling in his pools coupon, because the intonation in their voices misled him. So I decided to gather all the results on a Saturday before he checked his coupon, and I would go into a cupboard with a torch and some kid-on radio equipment, and read them out in a way I thought was more realistic." He first read the results professionally when he was summoned unexpectedly on a Saturday afternoon by the Radio 2 boss. "When I did my first broadcast, dad cried and said 'The wee bugger's finally done it'," he recalled.

He worked in the music business

Before joining the BBC Gordon was in the music business. He played the clarinet and worked as a pianist on a cruise liner, and promoted artists including Bert Kaempfert and James Last. He joined the BBC in 1972 and said that his background helped him develop his unique sing-song delivery. "I trained as a musician and I think music had a lot to do with the way I read them. I looked at these names and thought, unkindly, five minutes of that could be very boring for the listener. I thought it would be nice to make it a little different, with a bit of excitement," he told the BBC.

He once saw a ghost

Gordon helped cement the reputation of the Langham Hotel in London as one of the most haunted places in the country. The hotel used to be owned by the BBC and one night when he was staying overnight Gordon awoke to find a figure at the end of his bed. When he asked who was there the apparition began to move towards him with its arms outstretched and its eyes wide open. The sight prompted Gordon to hurl a shoe at the spectre and flee from the room. It was one of the anecdotes that would "reduce his colleagues to hysterics", says Audrey Adams, Gordon's producer from 1983 to 2013.

Eric Morcambe invented his catchphrase

Gordon had many fans, including comedian Eric Morcambe, who became a good friend of the broadcaster. And it was Morcambe who came up with the mythical scoreline East Fife 4 Forfar 5 – which  became the catchphrase for anyone doing an impression of Gordon. "Eric never called me James – whenever I saw him over a 20-year period he would say 'East Fife 4 Forfar 5'," explained Gordon in 2012. Although Gordon never had to read that exact scoreline the two Scottish clubs came close in 2011 when a game between them ended  East Fife 4 Forfar 3.

Sign up for our daily newsletter